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Michael Leavitt


U.S. artist Mike Leavitt is the CEO, sole employee, and manufacturing machine of Intuition Kitchen Productions: a one-man company of fine craft, sculpture, portraits, painting, performance, education, architecture, and animation.

An extreme boredom for “normal” art has pushed Leavitt into a variety of undefinable projects that cross between art and product, from ornate objects to curio kitsch. Since quitting Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute of Art as a freshman with a 4.0 GPA in 1997, Leavitt has been busy. Leavitt’s “Art Army” action figures are hand-made one-off “toys” depicting the surly band of marauders that’ll one day take over the earth. Spanning a range of historical subjects from Van Gogh to Tupac, Leavitt has stop-motion animated the articulating figures into movie shorts. The figurative format also shifted to include custom wedding cake toppers, now a lucrative side-project. His “Hip Hopjects” are nostalgic throw-backs to ’80’s ephemera, with classic shoes, tapedecks, and other accoutrements replicated to exact specifications with cardboard, brown paper bag, and other such trash found in the street. The “Penny Places” are an ongoing series of "lucky" pennies (U.S. 1-cent coins) found in the street, painted with tiny landscapes to depict the exact location where the penny was found. “ArtCards” are Leavitt’s hand-drawn trading cards of artists, sold in wrapped packs with a stale old crumbly piece of bubble gum. His Barack Obama artwork, from a portrait in marshmallow peeps to an elaborate action figure satire, toured Leavitt from a “Manifest Hope” contest winner’s circle to a massive political event in Rome, Italy just before Election Day 2008. He’s been commissioned for custom work from Italy, Israel and all over the U.S. Leavitt is represented by galleries in London, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. He has work in the collections of actress Geena Davis, Nike President Mark Parker, and in notable book publications such as Dot Dot Dash: Designer Toys, Action Figures and Character Art by Gestalten press in Germany.

He comes from a conceptual art background, with many generations of interactive performance art, motorized sculpture, and multi-sensory installations from his younger days. His concern for craft and hard labor has served Leavitt in several self-designed architectural projects, including a set of “Portable Homeless Shelters” built from recycled materials used in the Seattle area since 2001. Whether it’s intricate miniatures or industrial-grade objects, Leavitt loses interest too easily to add more crap to a square-edged world.

To see more of Mike Leavitt's art, please visit his web site.

Artist's Statement
Reality

Art is boring and stuffy. I hate making normal art. I’d rather paint on anything but a canvas, and sculpt anything but objects without some juicy sort of moving parts. I’m sick of snooze-ville contemporary art and “insider joke” gags made for rich people, nerdy art historians, and the academic press. I picture my art in the living room, not the museum.

Today’s art is under-represented in the press, and under-funded by investors, AS IT SHOULD BE. Most of it sucks. Other art forms are just plain better- movies, film, music, video…. they can pack in so much more information, be more relevance to people’s lives, and be cheaper to collect and acquire. Kids need to stop being constantly trained to make conceptual art that’s always trapped outside the house. The old time elite who funded that crap is shrinking, the new money who doesn’t care about art is growing. No more whining about art’s place in society. Just shut up and make it better.

I’m a Seattle native, working from my home studio in White Center, ‘Rat City’. I’m full-time everyday, busting ass in the sleepy Seattle art market. I’m not a darling to over-educated hipsters, nor am I mainstream enough to catch the eye of art galleries obsessed with played-out conceptual art. I’m not elitist enough to oppose the overseas out-sourcing of manufacturing mass editions of my work. The quality of product, distribution deals, ever-present middle-men, royalties, and ultimately a good living wage are still obstacles to mass production. I will, now and forever, always prioritize making my work affordable and accessible to a mass market. I have to do business outside Seattle, but I love my home too much to leave. I make a modest income from living solely off my work, only possible with a low-key lifestyle and low overhead. I earn about the U.S. minimum wage for a roughly 50-hour work week. I work just as hard as anyone, have just as much talent, and slaved 4 years away for a BA slip of paper. I’m not bitter or jealous, but I’m also not a money grubber. Retail galleries mark up my prices to pay their own wages, but I chose carefully to do business with people I believe in. I want more than just rich people to be able to buy my work, but I also pour my heart, soul, thoughts, energy, and sweat into everything I make. The sculpting machines at the ends of my arms need fuel to manufacture labor-intensive art.

I will always hope my art can do more for the world. Knowing my purpose on Earth, I’m blessed and limited. Conceptual art has a way of cracking social issues, but it’s usually too unexciting, un-entertaining, impractical, and over-priced. Low brow art (or the range of movements between current graphic art, graffiti, toys, tattoos, kitsch and the like) makes art fun, lively, and affordable again, but sometimes it feels irrelevant. I’d probably find myself between the cracks in any other profession. Deciding what art to make is an intellectual game. My deeper emotional struggle is knowing that my art can only casually help with the worldwide issues that I simply can’t ignore.

I was placed on this planet to make things with my hands. Living a dream is my obligation. Coming from a long blood line of teachers, I’m also here to teach. It is selfish to fend so hard for my personal survival, but my life is also an example. Sometimes the best teaching tools aren’t dogmatic. I’m also still pragmatic enough to say “don’t quit your day job” or “become an artist!”. It’s impractical for most, and would be stupid for my own business to encourage a market flood. I merely hope that others are as inspired and motivated as I am everyday.

Millions of people hide top-secret passions from their ‘real’ life, often in other unheralded fields besides the arts like science, engineering, or social service. Too many real-world superheroes, ‘week-day warriors’ change into some sort of undercover costume after work to burn the midnight oil. We need these superheroes’ superpowers in the day light hours, too. The world is in constant peril, and life is too short to live another day without the best of our talents and passions stepping up to the plate.

Philosophy

COMMONGROUND... BEAUTY, TRUTH... UNDERGROUND

We have enough snooty elitism and gloomy-doomsday talk already. There's too much pain in the world to take life too seriously. When it's all love, it burns hot, and it f%#$in hurts. Being bummed out can make us feel ambiguous. In the U.S., an overload of freedom can make for a debilitating plethora of choices. Our ambiguity can lead to apathy, complacency, and indifference. But when decisions are made by taste and desire, we connect. Fingers don't have to be pointed to make waves. Truth lies in pure entertainment and simple beauty.

Piggy-backing on a later-20th Century drift from the self-absorbed and high-class individualism of modern art, new media in the 21st Century is more populist in theory. In reality, it may be easier for public access, but most of the substance is garbage. Hollywood, reality TV, and YouTube hacks steal standard art school tricks constantly, while people are being drawn far away from the culture of visual and physical art. Visual material is being excessively used for stupid crap, and 3-D printers will soon put sculptors out of business. Objects made with hardened physical skill still rock. When the visual chops are sharp, the images cut clean to the bone.
Specialized talent, street smarts, common sense, and universal truths can get us back on solid ground. We need a new common ground outside the ancient empires of moral righteousness and apathetic ambiguity. Liberal intellectualism is making a mush of common values.

Conservative rhetoric is attaching a bad stigma to Populist philosophies. Too many people make a career of talking constantly, micro-cosmic irrelevence, and middle management. People are disconnecting from physical reality, and thriving solely on conceptual grounds of wealth, fear, and moral conventions.

Terrorism built the Western identity. U.S. domestic racism was rock hard on the Native Americans that apparently threatened security. Western foreign policy was born to fight pirates. Now Walt Disney and Halloween celebrate the alcoholism and bloodshed. Security comes in the fun of playing with a historical terrorism. It also strikes the deepest cords of fear in its contemporary form. Turbans, radical Islamic websites, and YouTube videos are more terrifying than a skull and cross-bones, eye-patches, or Johnny Depp's drunken eye-liner that it seems like a joke.

The epic gap between pirates and terrorists is the most concrete current example of our cultural myths drifting us further and further from "the enemy". Finding common ground with "the enemy" would question the western identity, so it's tailored to look like a cowardly maneuver. Fear is easier to tap than the muddy waters of diplomacy. It takes courage to fight, but it also takes a deeper courage to resist the survival instincts of fighting difference and exacting revenge.

Our hyper-connected world is not bringing us closer together. Our digital identities are swiftly freeing us from facing of our true identities. We have more control, choices, and options to take the easiest path possible. Social networking and reality television are not "social" or "reality" when they hinge on direct interaction with a square box of digital images. People, animals, and nature interact. Technological devices are bought and sold to expedite these interactions, while simultaneously impeding them.

Technology isn't shrinking our planet. We're just running out of space and stuff to consume. The seduction of consumer technology is making human values more extreme. New philosophies, forged and hardened in the raging fires of niche networks, are cutting us apart. Websites, cell phones, and text messaging connect only some in a clique, with the idea that they're connected at the hip.

We're becoming biologically homogeneous. Diversification is not securing our sustainability. Our bodies are becoming more and more alike, but our minds are growing apart. We can't even agree that our environment is damaging our bodies. Our health is suffering, so our minds are detaching from each other, our environment, and from our own bodies.

Yet humans have an untapped backbone of universal similarity. Technology has tuned our survival instincts from food, water and shelter to the needs of social and mental health. Humans have become profoundly similar in one way: we are all personally motivated by the balance of being different or normal. We all constantly negotiate the process of being alone or together, private or public, isolated or accepted, rebellious or conforming, innovative or corny, different or similar, underground or mainstream, challenging or entertaining. Since the power of this balance is unique to human history, our most common similarity is something completely different. As complex as they are, we do have a core set of values that we can re-connect around without being too normal... or different.





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